In Sierra Leone, sex between men is illegal but not sex between women
Pack your bags for a romantic weekend with your “friend”
Sometimes, I can go for days without remembering I’m gay. On those days, I’m just a person – who happens to be attracted to women – going about her reasonably quiet life. Buying toilet paper. Hoovering. Eating cheese in bed.
Then, something will usually remind me. An off glance in the street, on one of my more butch days. The latest news on how Theresa “Friend O’gays” May is throwing us under the great honking, homophobic DUP bus. Something that says, even safe inside my liberal London bubble, cushioned by Facebook statuses about queer vegan discos, I am other. Lately, the thing that has reminded me of this the most has been trying to make travel plans.
“What about Senegal?” says my girlfriend. I Google “Senegal gay rights”. “Well,” I say, “Up to five years in prison for having sex.” “Ah,” she says. My girlfriend’s preferred travel destination is somewhere with a slight edge. Somewhere, I keep on telling her, she might die in the crossfire of a civil war or a drug deal gone bad. That’s not how she sees it though. For her, most people are good, but a holiday isn’t a holiday without at least a small chance of getting on the wrong side of one of the bad ones. But, having been in a long relationship with a man before me, she’s never really considered the risks of travelling while gay. She realises how privileged she was with her ex. And, in spite of her slight thing for danger, I’m pretty sure she has no intention of getting the two of us in legal trouble for being a couple.
It’s not, of course, that we simply can’t go to any of these places. We’d just have to go easy on the PDA, book hotel rooms with separate beds, pretend to be gal pals (for the love of god…) etc. The thing is though – I’m not sure I want to do any of that. I take my right to walk down the street holding her hand for granted. And that’s how it should be. And, as a tourist, I have the luxury of picking and choosing destinations I can continue to do so. With every one of her suggestions for an exciting trip, I Google the country and “gay rights”. Time after time, I’m left thinking about just how grotesquely lucky I am to be a citizen of a country where my sexuality is not only legal, but – for now at least – protected from discrimination.
But it’s educational, at least; all this depressing Googling. When she suggested Sierra Leone, for example, I learnt that sex between two men is illegal there, but not sex between two women. Which put me in the unprecedented situation of being a little bit offended that lesbianism isn’t illegal because – I can only hazard a guess – gay sex isn’t taken seriously unless something is (necessarily…) going in someone’s butt (homophobes always seem obsessed with this…).
For my birthday this year, we went on a weekend trip to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Seeing as Lithuania has one of the worst reputations for LGBTQ rights in Europe, we spent a lot of the holiday bickering about whether or not any kind of PDA was acceptable. For example, when I batted away my girlfriend’s hand as we walked down the street, was I being xenophobic for assuming most Lithuanians are homophobic? As it happens, the first time we did hold hands we got stared down by a wandering herd of skinheads. But – other than that – nobody really seemed to notice.
We even tried to go to Vilnius’s one gay bar, but found it to be an enticing combination of in the middle of nowhere and shut. Which was a huge shame seeing as I’ve never been to a queer venue in an ex-soviet state and, now, maybe never will.
Then, at the end of the trip, in our review on Airbnb, our very friendly and accommodating hostess referred to us as “friends”. And never has the word “friend” served as such a stark and unwelcome reminder that I’m gay.